A never-ending ascent
We tend to accept a definition of success loosely based around financial gain & social status. Being a wealthy finance executive, or a partner at a law firm, or a business magnate.
‘Success’ is narrowly defined for simplicity. There is one definition that we as a society have accepted & therefore follow.
But can such a broad definition be applied to the diverse needs, interests & goals of each individual? Is it even accurate to say that one definition exists?
Firstly, no, we can’t fit all of humanity’s diverse goals, interests & goals into one narrow definition. We are just too eclectic. Too diverse.
Secondly, even if we base the underlying assumptions that define success on social status & the accumulation of wealth, then it falls up short.
Because both these assumptions have no clear outcome, no clear goal. They are entirely subjective & malleable. You cannot say, for example, ‘I have $1 million & should therefore be viewed as a successful person’.
Wealth is relative. Social status is relative. Both are also relative to your own perception & expectations.
A millionaire will think he is poor & inadequate in a room full of billionaires.
Climbing up the corporate ladder, always in the pursuit of more, never seems to have an end point.
Because where’s the point that you’ve ‘made’ it? Is it when you’re highest up in the ladder? Or you’re earning over $500,000 per year? Or you’ve got a nicer car than your neighbour? Or you’re head of the company? Or you’re head of the biggest, wealthiest company in the world? Or you’re head of your own company?
It’s impossible to quantify, or when to say ‘stop’. There’s no clear peak to summit. There’s no way of benchmarking yourself & saying, ‘OK, I’ve now made it. I am a success.’
There’s always someone else with more money, or with more social status. It’s a never ending struggle to the top. Once you start playing that game, there’s no end in sight.
Define success yourself
It seems to me that we need to re-frame the question.
We currently look at success based on outward metrics. Based on arbitrary concepts that society says we should follow.
But this is backwards. We can’t just define success as a singular concept. Each person must define success for themselves. If my priority in life is a balanced family life, for example, then being a wealthy business leader with three estranged kids is, in fact, a hugely unsuccessful life.
Instead, we should look at success inwardly. What is it that we want to achieve as an individual? Why? How can we quantify it?
Is it based on a metric, like wealth? Or on a journey?
Are you only focused on an outcome, or are you interested in seeing how things unfold along the way?
“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door,” he used to say. “You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.” — Bilbo Baggins
In my experience, outcomes can be a risky business. They can be arbitrary, they can change over time, based on new information or experience, & they can be outside of your control, particularly in a fast-changing world.
Psychological studies support this, suggesting we should focus on process rather than outcomes in goal-achievement.
So, what is success then?
I can’t give you an answer. I’m neither qualified, nor do I believe that anyone else can give you an answer.
You must go, experience things, learn along the way, enjoy it, & start finding your own answer to that question.